How To Win At Table Topics

I’m doing a workshop on Table Topics later this morning at the Union Gas Ramblers Toastmaster  Club in Stoney Creek, where I am one of the club mentors. (Reema Duggal, who many of you know, is the other mentor.)

I was asked to do the workshop following my win at the District 86 Table Topics Contest two years ago.dscf6327

I knew what I wanted to say but the outline for my 10-minute workshop just wasn’t coming so I did what I always do when I want to get my brain working: I Googled the question.

What popped up was a fabulous 10 Tips for Terrific Table Topics written by District 71’s Chris Cox, ATM-S, AL-S, Cambridge Speakers Club, England.

Here’s what I plan on saying using Chris’s posting as an outline:

Don’t Panic

I was terrified of Table Topics when I started attending Toastmaster meetings 22 years ago. I had no idea what was happening but, as happens in Toastmasters, sooner or later somebody handed me a table topic. I can’t remember now how it went but I bet I didn’t see the green light before I sat down. Rather than being critical of my shortcomings, everyone applauded my first attempt. I was heartened by this reception and eager to try again.

Buy Timeimages

This is the one point where I disagree with Chris. I find so many contestants walk soooo slowly to the lectern while they’re frantically trying to think what to say. This slow walk usually leads to a slow low-key start to the table topic. What I discovered is walking slowly was a hinderance to making a BIG first impression. Whenever possible I ran to the lectern when my name was called. I jumped up on stage and vigorously shock the Table Topics Master’s hand. I then started talking louder than I thought I should with larger gestures than I would normally use in a regular speech.

Go with the first little idea that comes into your head

I agree entirely here. There is no time to wait for the best idea to show up. Go with whatever is in your head and work it out. Most times this works just fine.

Express an opinion right at the startimages-2

Jump right in and make a declarative statement. Follow that up with an example and end with a reference to your being position and you’re done.

Remember the rule of three

My first mentor told me two decades ago that I could prepare myself for table topics. What he suggested was I put some structure into my talk. I could talk about what I didn’t liked, what I liked and what I loved relating to the topic.

Remember the six honest men

Here Chris means the journalist’s who, what, where, why, when and how. Again it’s a structure you can use.

Know when to stop

I tell my mentees to stop when they see the green light. Find someway to land your speech because, as I say to them, the next time you look at the clock it will be red and you’ll not know where you stand when it comes to the timing.

Prepare something in advance

This is tricky but it can be done. For example I read two newspapers daily. When it comes to Table Topics my mind is filled with current information that I can turn into a mini speech at the drop of a gavel.

Draw on your own experiences

If I can find something in my own life that relates that’s great but I find often real-life experiences take too long to introduce or explain. If I can use one example from my own life that’s okay but if I try to turn the entire topic to my life I find I get lost in the complexity of my own thinking.

Be eccentric

Being eccentric comes easily to me. I once ended a speech about visiting a nudist colony wearing only a Speedo. In the Table Topics contest wanted to be seen to be different from my competitors so I always wore a bright white button-downed formal shirt, dark pants and a bright belt. My competitors almost always wore dark (sometimes dreary) business attire and they all ended up looking pretty much the same especially in some of poorly illuminated venues. There was no wow factor or difference in their look and they tended to blend into the background.

Read Chris Cox’s post for his excellent opinions on what works and here’s his point # 11 bonus tip:

Keep doing table topics

My surprising district-level win came after 20 years of taking a table topic at every meeting where someone would let me compete 🙂


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